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Who will pay to re-farm the radio amateurs?signal strength
Wednesday 12 June, 2013, 11:54 - Amateur Radio
Posted by Administrator
military signalsOfcom have just opened a consultation on the use of 2310 to 2450 and 3400 to 3475 MHz spectrum band by radio amateurs. To cut a long story relatively short, the Ministry of Defence who are the current occupants and owners of these bands, have decided to release parts of them for new uses, most likely to be LTE mobile broadband networks. The MoD are releasing the spectrum from:
  • 2350 – 2390 MHz; and
  • 3410 – 3600 MHz.
Ofcom has conducted compatibility tests and determined that it would be unfeasible for radio amateurs to continue to use the bands once LTE networks are in place, as interference would be caused to the LTE base stations. As such, amateurs in the UK are set to lose the vast majority of the 3.4 GHz band, and have a big hole punched in the middle 2.3 GHz band. They are not the first to suffer in this respect and many other countries have, are, or will be releasing spectrum in these bands for commercial usage, thereby heavily restricting amateur use.

change aheadThis would leave UK radio amateurs with a still reasonably healthy allocation at 2.3 GHz comprising 2310 – 2350 and 2390 – 2450 MHz, noting that the frequencies above 2400 MHz are shared with WiFi, Bluetooth and other licence exempt devices. At 3.4 GHz, the situation is much worse as the current allocation of 75 MHz, would be reduced to just 10 MHz from 3400 – 3410 MHz.
The Ofcom consultation document claims that there are only around 200 or so amateurs who are active in these bands and any economist will tell you that upsetting 200 people for the potential benefit of 60 million, no matter how important those 200 people are, is a no-brainer.

But the consultation is not really about the continued use of the bands which are being handed over to commercial users, it’s more about whether radio amateurs should also be allowed to continue using the other parts of the band. The logic seems to go:
  • Once the released chunks of spectrum are given over to new users, any existing use (e.g. MoD, government and programme makers) which was previously in that band, will be concentrated in the remaining pieces of spectrum.
  • Whilst, at present, radio amateurs share nicely with existing users, once everyone is forced into less spectrum the potential for interference is commensurately greater.
  • Further, as radio amateurs can use high power transmitters, they may also cause interference to the commercial users in the adjacent spectrum.
  • As such, it would be easier all round, if the use of the whole of the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands, and not just the released bits, were denied to radio amateurs.

radio ham jamGraciously, Ofcom is not proposing such a draconian measure, but is instead suggesting that radio amateurs be given continued access to the remaining portions of the 2.3 and 3.4 GHz bands but with a reduced notice period of 3 months. The plan would be that if users experience interference from amateurs, Ofcom would terminate amateur use in a 3 month timeframe (instead of the more usual 1 year cut off period). This seems like an eminently reasonable and pragmatic proposal.

Activities such as this, where users are forced to give way to others is commonplace in the radio spectrum and has been termed ‘re-farming’ as it is akin to a farmer changing the use of his land. Not long ago, Ofcom undertook a similar activity with radiomicrophone users, forcing them out of channel 69 and into channel 38 in the UHF television band to make way for LTE services at 800 MHz. The key difference here, though, is that Ofcom recognised that there was a cost associated with thousands of radiomicrophone users having to buy new equipment, and set up a scheme to fund the replacement of the equipment. The funds were paid for from the dues generated by the sale of the spectrum.

Moving out of the 2.3 and 3.4 GHz amateur bands will incur costs to many radio amateurs, not least those who operate television repeaters within the affected sections. It seems only fair, therefore, that Ofcom (or the MoD) should support radio amateurs by funding the necessary modifications to this equipment, and making the issue of new licences and frequencies as quick and easy as possible. Given how few users there are, this should not be a costly exercise, compared to the sums that will no doubt be raised when the spectrum is sold to commercial market players.
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